St George Illawarra among contenders for 2019 NRL title, but Dragons need lady luck on their side

Saying goodbye: 2019 will be St George Illawarra captain Gareth Widdop's final season wearing the red V. Picture: Anna Warr
Saying goodbye: 2019 will be St George Illawarra captain Gareth Widdop's final season wearing the red V. Picture: Anna Warr

It has been an off-season of distraction at St George Illawarra.

While the fallout from the Jack de Belin saga has taken much of the spotlight, it's easy to forget that this will be the final season of watching Gareth Widdop wear the red V after he announced his departure at the end of this season.

What's even easier to forget is that the Dragons were only two games away from a grand final last season and, had injuries not struck at the worst possible time, would absolutely have been in contention for the title.

They could have beaten South Sydney in week two of the finals. But had Paul Vaughan, Widdop and Tariq Sims not been unavailable, who knows what they might have been capable of.

The fact is this Dragons side is comparable to the team that tore up the competition for the first half of last season. But their young players have a year's more experience and Ben Hunt is now settled in his new home.

The pick up of the undeniably talented Corey Norman to play five-eighth gives the Dragons another x-factor. His halves combination with former Queensland No.7 Hunt looks among the most balanced - and dangerous - in the NRL.

Then there is Korbin Sims, brother of Tariq, who has joined from Brisbane to add further strength to the forward pack.

There are losses. The biggest concern being Leeson Ah Mau's move to the Warriors. Valuable utility Kurt Mann has joined Newcastle and talented youngster Hame Sele has joined Penrith.

X-factor: Dragons fans will be excited to see what exciting five-eighth Corey Norman can bring to the club. Picture: Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image

X-factor: Dragons fans will be excited to see what exciting five-eighth Corey Norman can bring to the club. Picture: Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image

Some may also question the depth of the Dragons' outside backs with Jason Nightingale's retirement and Nene Macdonald's switch to North Queensland.

But the introduction of youngsters Zac Lomax and Jordan Pereira - with just 13 NRL games between them - could add spark out wide.

The No.1 question about St George Illawarra might be who is the best man to wear their No.1? It appears coach Paul McGregor is keen on shifting captain Widdop to fullback to accommodate Norman in the halves.

So where does that leave Matt Dufty? The electrifying Penshurst RSL junior is likely to come off the bench. What a weapon he could prove to be at the back end of big games come finals time.

The Dragons should be genuine contenders for the premiership this season.

Whether they can muster the consistency, how the de Belin issue affects them and whether they can halt their late season fade outs will determine if they win their first title in almost a decade.

But, maybe, the Dragons really just need that one uncontrollable thing - a little bit of luck at the right time.

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